Close this search box.

We are creating some awesome events for you. Kindly bear with us.

EXCLUSIVE – Research for impact – the SMART way forward

EXCLUSIVE - Research for impact - the SMART way forward

In December 2017, the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research
and Technology (SMART) launched
two new Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs), targeting the areas of
precision agriculture and antimicrobial resistance.

The Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for
Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) IRG seeks to develop nanosensor-based detection
technologies to be applied in precision agriculture for the discovery,
optimisation and translation of plant biosynthetic pathways for improved yields
in production. The Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) IRG aims to identify new
antimicrobial drug resistance mechanisms, with the goal of developing new
therapeutics diagnostics and drug delivery technologies and approaches.

On the sidelines of EmTech Asia 2018, OpenGov spoke to
Professor Daniel Hastings, CEO and Director of SMART to learn more about the
new IRGs and the current emphasis on translating research into real-world

Resistance IRG

Talking about the AMR IRG, Prof Hastings said, “The big
problem is the continuing increase of bacteria which are resistant to more and
more of the antibiotics we have, for a range of reasons. It’s a worldwide
problem. But in Singapore there is a national programme to address this.”

Late last year, the Singapore Government launched
a National Strategic Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance. The Plan has five
core strategies revolving around education; surveillance and risk assessment;
research; prevention and control of infection; and optimisation of antimicrobial

The AMR IRG is involved in the science and research aspect. The
programme is bringing a set of convergent technologies aiming to tackle AMR in
Singapore and worldwide.

“They are looking at developing a deeper understanding of
how is it that some of these bacteria have actually evolved a resistance to the
antibiotics, going down to the level of what occurs in the body of a cell. How
is it that they manage to resist these antibiotics, understanding the molecular
mechanisms. Secondly, they are going after the questions of given that we
understand this, can we actually turn off that ability,” Prof Hastings

The team is also taking a look at the existing classes of
drugs to see if any of these drugs can actually be directly used or if they can
be repurposed to go after some of these drug resistant organisms. Another
approach is exploiting host immunity to kill resistant microbes.

The researchers are looking at bacteriophages (viruses that
kill bacteria), and genetically engineering them to kill the drug-resistant
bacteria, along with exploring the use of nanoparticles for capsulation
technology to deliver drugs in a more efficient way, as well as diagnosing and
treating AMR in the human microbiome. New drugs are also being developed, with
an attempt to shorten the usual timeframe for bringing drugs to market.

Prof Hastings said that all this is part of the bigger national
programme in Singapore.

“What you do in hospitals, what you do in public education,
what you do in the feedstocks and so on. You actually have to address the
whole. Just doing the science in itself would be insufficient,” he said.

Disruptive & Sustainable
Technologies for Agricultural Precision IRG

The underlying belief is that with technology embedded into the
plants, it’s possible to understand in detail what’s happening with these plants
so that their yield can be substantially increased. This is significant as many
existing technologies employed to understand plant biology are destructive
(i.e. requires the grinding up of leaves and plant tissues before analysis).

The emphasis on real-time and non-destructive methods of
probing particular biological pathways within the plant offers unprecedented
insights and an ability to better select for desirable traits.

DiSTAP could
contribute solutions to the challenges of urban food and nutrient production,
reducing Singapore’s dependence on imports of foodstuff (though not eliminate

While the nanosensors
and optical technologies will be initially deployed for use in urban farming of
leafy green vegetables, they should have broad applicability in precision
agriculture. The technologies developed
for highly resource-efficient urban farming can be exported to other countries generating
economic value.

Translating for impact

During the past few years, there have been scores of
collaborative initiatives between government, academia and industry to drive
translation of research into products and applications with socio-economic

We asked Prof Hastings about where SMART fits in this
ecosystem. He replied that if we compare Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE)
plan with the RIE
plan, there’s a great deal more emphasis on translation. And SMART is
playing a key role in the translation process. It is participating in the
incubators coming up in Singapore. The two new IRGs, DISTAP and AMR, are also
part of its efforts.  

SMART also has an Innovation
, which administers a Grant Programme enabling faculty and students
to pursue new avenues of market-driven research and participate in programmes to
help accelerate their innovations toward commercialisation.

“SMART will continue to bring a substantial MIT presence
here, where we take what we know about research which we do with excellence,
and we collaborate with the universities, NUS, NTU, SUTD and SMU, and we
increase the gain on translation. Because that goes with RIE 2020 and it is
what MIT knows very well,” said Prof Hastings.

More can be

But has the translation landscape improve in Singapore over
the past few years? We asked Prof Hastings what more can be done?

There is a lot more government funding available now for
translation related initiatives. There is a much better understanding of where
the gaps are in the funding streams.

But Prof Hastings added that there needs to be development
work in a number of areas. Firstly, the size of the venture capital (VC)
community here is probably not as large as it could be. And secondly the amount
of resources available in deep tech can be improved.

A lot of resources are available for app tech, such as apps
for shopping, ride hailing. Prof Hastings said that those are also important,
but they are relatively easy to do.

“What Singapore needs to do, and they are aware of this, is
focus on things which need longer development timeframes, things with physical or
biological instantiations, as opposed to app instantiations.”

“Medical devices, biology combined with IT, autonomous
vehicles are in that class. I would say more needs to be done in that area. And
doing things to attract more VC money,” Prof Hastings said.


Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.


As a Titanium Black Partner of Dell Technologies, CTC Global Singapore boasts unparalleled access to resources.

Established in 1972, we bring 52 years of experience to the table, solidifying our position as a leading IT solutions provider in Singapore. With over 300 qualified IT professionals, we are dedicated to delivering integrated solutions that empower your organization in key areas such as Automation & AI, Cyber Security, App Modernization & Data Analytics, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

Renowned for our consulting expertise and delivering expert IT solutions, CTC Global Singapore has become the preferred IT outsourcing partner for businesses across Singapore.


Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit


SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.


HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 


IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and consulting services provider, helping clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,800 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently, and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity, and service. For more information, visit